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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall Miniseries

11 May

Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall has actually been adapted for the BBC twice, but the 1968 version is not available. Heck, even this version, from 1996, was not available in the US until 2008. I bought it last year but before that I had a version from the Netherlands- English with Dutch subtitles. Apparently it wasn’t even on DVD in the UK yet! This version is a three part miniseries which has some pretty famous actors in it- just pictured are Toby Stephens as Gilbert Markham, Tara Fitzgerald as Helen Huntingdon, and Rupert Graves as Arthur Huntingdon. Many of the supporting cast are also big names or at least well-known in period dramas- Pam Ferris as Mrs. Markham, Paloma Baeza (Hetta Carbury from The Way We Live Now) as Rose Markham, James Purefoy as Frederick Lawrence, and Dominic Rowan (Mr. Elton from Beckinsale Emma) as Lord Lowborough, for example.

Despite the cast, this adaptation doesn’t seem to be that well-known. At least, it’s not up there with any of Jane Austen, Dickens, or other Bronte adaptations. Part of this may be because it was so hard to get until recently but I think it’s mostly because Anne Bronte and the book itself aren’t that popular in comparison with the other classic authors I listed. It’s a real shame, because the book is so brilliant and this version is also really good.

Helen and little Arthur Escape

The series changes the structure of the novel somewhat. We begin with Helen as she flees with her son in the early morning to Wildfell Hall-so we know right away that she is not what she seems. There are also  flashbacks throughout that can be kind of confusing. Then, the end timeline is fudged with a bit. Gilbert has not yet finished reading the diary when he finds out that Helen has gone back to her husband. I was so confused- I thought they just cut the rest out! But then Gilbert finishes reading it and it made sense. Still, I wasn’t a fan of the change!

Helen keeping Gilbert away

I have to say I wasn’t that fond of Tara Fitzgerald as Helen. I do think she’s a fine actress, but she’s not how I pictured Helen. For one, she sounds like she smokes a pack a day. This was especially jarring in the flashback diary scenes to when Helen was young and naive. Way out of place! And in the later scenes, she is a bit too cold. Helen in the book was afraid to let people get too close to her because of her bad experience and fear of being found out. But Tara Fitzgerald just takes it too far. It’s kind of hard to see why Gilbert falls for her. Also, this is shallow, but she had a really unflattering hairstyle for most of the series.

Growing Closer

I simply do not have enough good things to say about Toby Stephens as Gilbert, though! First of all, his ruggedly handsome look was beyond sexy, which was a definite plus! Secondly, they played down his less appealing character traits. They’re still there, just toned down. You can definitely see how Helen fell for him, at least!

Gossiping Villagers

All of Gilbert and Helen’s neighbors were really good. I only wish we got to see more of them! I loved Pam Ferris as Gilbert’s doting mother. I wasn’t very fond of Paloma Baeza as Hetta Carbury but that was more due to Andrew Davies’ terrible script than her acting. She was so cute in this as Gilbert’s sister, Rose. She recognized and commented on the inequality of the sexes in her household. But they weren’t the malicious gossip-spreaders. Pictured are the three major culprits, Eliza Millward, Jane Wilson, and Reverand Millward. The latter two were especially cruel in the book and I was disappointed we didn’t get to see them punished in this.

Fight!

Like in the book, Gilbert ignores all the gossip that Helen is her landlord, Mr. Lawrence’s mistress. That is, until he sees the two of them talking at night and of course, misunderstands. He comes upon Lawrence and beats the crap out of him until Helen tells him the truth. I really liked James Purefoy as Mr. Lawrence, but unfortunately his part wasn’t big enough. Like the other side characters, Mr. Lawrence’s subplot and happy ending was cut for time. One thing that really bothered me too was everyone gossiping that Lawrence and Helen’s son, Arthur, resembled each other….They looked nothing alike!

Arthur Huntingdon

Rupert Graves played the part of Arthur Huntingdon perfectly. His boyish good looks added to his charm. The guy was clearly a scoundrel even before Helen married him, but he kept charming her back to his side. Helen’s aunt tried to steer her towards a safer man, Mr. Boarham, but his name says enough about him. Graves did a good job with Huntingdon’s mood swings- one minute loving and kind, the next cruel and unfeeling. I have one big complaint about him though- his kissing. It was disgusting- loud, smacking, slurping noises for every little peck. Gross! I don’t know if he really kisses like that or it was intentional to add to the character’s depravity or whatever, but it was NOT appealing in any way!

Sexed Up!

Now we come to my main complaint about this adaptation- it’s sexed up. Really, really sexed up. You thought Andrew Davies was bad? Wait until you’ve seen this. It takes all the scenes that are in the background or hinted at in the book and brings them to the foreground. Did we need to see Helen and Arthur in bed after their wedding? Or any other times? Did we need to physically see him having an affair with Lady Lowborough? No, we did not!! The reader knows these things are going on without it being shoved in their faces, so why did they need to do that for the TV version? Especially given Rupert Graves’ gross kissing in this, it was really unnecessary! The sexiest thing by far in this version was Gilbert and he didn’t actually have any sex scenes!

Sexy Gilbert!

While I could definitely do without all the sexed up scenes, this version isn’t afraid to be gritty in other ways, which I did appreciate to an extent. I liked the dark look with all natural lighting. I liked seeing Arthur wasting away from his alcoholism. I’ve even come to accept the birth of little Arthur, which I thought was gross at first. You don’t actually see anything but the blood after the fact. Where I draw the line, though, is the sheep giving birth. This time, you DO actually see EVERYTHING. And it’s disgusting. I guess they meant to show how Gilbert was good with animals and crap, but no, I hate that scene!

So all in all, I would recommend this version but with some reserve. It’s really only intended for slightly more mature viewers. There’s no naughty bits actually scene on screen but I wouldn’t let anyone under 13 watch it, all the same. Still, it’s mostly a well-done adaptation with good acting. It’s also the only available adaptation of Anne Bronte, so there’s really nothing else to compare it to! It actually is pretty faithful to the novel for the most part. One thing that is cut is a lot of the outcomes for the side characters. In the end, we really only find out what happens to the three main people. And…two others in a funny role reversal of the book’s ending. I understand that things have to be cut for time and maybe it would have been too cheesy to conveniently tie up everyone’s loose ends. Still, I would have liked to see what happened to the Lowboroughs, Hattersleys, Hargraves, Millwards, Wilsons, the other Markhams, and Mr. Lawrence. Wow, after seeing all the names like that, maybe it would have been overkill after all!

My Rating: 8/10

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall Book Review

5 May

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte’s second and final novel, is the more well-known of the two, but still not as popular as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. That shouldn’t surprise you, given what I said in my Agnes Grey review.

Wildfell Hall is told in three parts- the first part is a letter from the hero, Gilbert Markham, to his brother-in-law, many years after the events of the story have taken place. Gilbert is a yeoman farmer in a small village who falls in love with the new, titular tenant of Wildfell Hall, Helen Graham. The supposedly widowed Helen lives alone with her small son, Arthur, and only one servant. She works as a painter to support them and is a bit on the reclusive side. Many of the villagers begin to spread gossip about her really being the mistress of her landlord, Mr. Lawrence. Gilbert attacks Mr. Lawrence in a fit of rage and so Helen gives him her diary so he can find out the truth.

The second third of the novel is said diary, beginning six years earlier when Helen was just 18. In it Gilbert learns of her infatuation with a handsome rake, Arthur Huntingdon. Against her aunt’s advice, and ignoring all the warning signs, Helen marries Huntington. He is soon revealed to be cruel and emotionally abusive, quickly going back to his libertine ways. For years the deeply religious Helen struggles to put up with his treatment but once he brings his mistress into the house under the guise of their son’s governess, Helen can take no more and escapes to Wildfell Hall.

The last third continues Gilbert’s letter and tells what happens afterwards. I won’t spoil it but you can probably guess how it will end.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, while it has largely positive reviews from what I’ve read, does have its criticisms as well. I’d like to get into those. Many complain that the characters of Helen and Gilbert are unlikable- Helen is too pious and “sanctimonious” and Gilbert is a spoiled brat who is little better than Arthur Huntingdon. I disagree. Helen, like Anne Bronte, is a devoted Christian but I did not find her sanctimonious. I admired her strength and ability to keep her faith while in such a destructive marriage. I do not feel that she was boring in any way- she had a sense of humor which was clear through her diary, more so in the beginning before she is worn down by Huntingdon. I also feel that while Gilbert is flawed, he does not even come close to approaching the cruelty and debauchery of Arthur Huntingdon! Gilbert is a mama’s boy but he grows through his friendship with Helen, and he did what Huntingdon and the other “bad” man in the story never did- he left Helen alone when she asked him to! If Gilbert had been perfect I feel it would have just cheapened the story and made it too fairy-tale like.

Wildfell Hall  is my favorite Bronte book. It’s largely regarded as the first feminist novel and I have to agree. It’s definitely feminist and I’m too ignorant to know if there was anything before it! It received harsh reviews of “coarseness” at the time of its publication due to its realistic portrayals of vice among the upper-class. Charlotte even disparaged her  subject choice and suppressed its republication after Anne’s death (the first publication quickly sold out).  During the Victorian era, a wife was considered her husband’s property, so Helen’s behavior would have been considered scandalous- locking her door against her husband (!) and running away. Like Agnes Grey, Anne Bronte drew from real life experiences to depict her characters (Arthur Huntingdon is likely based at least in part on her brother Branwell) and she pulls no punches. Both men and women in this book lead sinful lives, in turn both men and women are victims of some sort.

I would recommend The Tenant of Wildfell Hall to anyone- you don’t have to be feminist and you don’t have to like the Brontes. I think it could appeal to fans of both. It’s just a really good, powerful book.

My Rating: 10/10

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

27 Apr

Now that I’m done with Jane Austen, I thought I’d move on to some other favorite authors of mine- the Brontes, starting in alphabetical order with Anne. Anne Bronte is probably the least popular Bronte sister for some reason. She actually wrote two books (and Charlotte wrote four) but the only Bronte books anyone ever seems to know are Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Those are by far the most popular and have been adapted many, many times. Unfortunately given Anne’s relative obscurity, there are very few adaptations of her works. There are a couple TV versions of her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, but only one of those is available on DVD and there are none at all of her first book, Agnes Grey. I think this is a real shame because I love both of Anne’s books and because of this, I would say she’s my favorite of the three sisters.

Agnes Grey tells of the titular character’s life as a governess. Her family loses their fortune in an accident and so Agnes decides to work as a governess rather than be a burden on her parents- even though they are against this idea. She first teaches extremely bratty young children (the son is a sociopath who tortures his younger sisters and small animals) and then older, more worldly children. All of her pupils are spoiled to the core, but she gets along well enough with her second family of employment.

Like Jane Eyre, Agnes Grey is about a governess, but the two books are very different from each other. Agnes Grey is much more realistic, lacking all the gothic and mysterious elements. Anne based the story and characters on her own experiences as a governess, and thus all the bratty kids are very well realized. Agnes does fall in love but it’s a more understated romance with a good man, but nothing like the tumultuous passion between Jane and Rochester. Anne Bronte’s books are definitely the most realistic out of all of the Brontes and this one most of all. The style is the closest to Jane Austen that any of them will get, so Jane Austen fans who are not fond of Charlotte and Emily’s work will probably respond more favorably to this one. It does have a moral and religious message to it but I didn’t find it heavy-handed.


My Rating: 8/10

My Bronte Ratings

20 May

Seeing as I can’t sleep, I thought I’d post more quick opinions, this time on the famous Bronte sisters. Some of these have no adaptations available, sadly. They always seem to do Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights over and over and over…

Anne Bronte

Agnes Grey- Much more realistic depiction of a governess’s life than Jane Eyre. 8/10

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Book- My favorite Bronte book. The characterizations are so true to life that it makes the villains more horrible and  Helen all the more sympathetic. 10/10

1996- Toby Stephens is a very attractive Gilbert Markham but Tara Fitzgerald is not as likable as the book Helen and it is way too sexed up. 7/10

Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre

Book- It took years for me to come to love this book as much as I do now. I still find the beginning boring and draggy but after Jane gets to Thornfield it’s fascinating. 9/10

1983- Very faithful to the book, for better or worse. 8/10

1996- Not very good, frankly. William Hurt acted more like a block of wood than Rochester. 5/10

1997- This one is not very good either. Too rushed. Ciaran Hinds had a horrible mustache and just shouted every line. Don’t know what they were going for with that. 5/10

2006- My favorite. Not as faithful as 1983 but really brings the passion between Jane and Rochester to life. 9/10

Shirley- Too wordy. Could have benefited from serious editing and cuts. Like Caroline and Shirley but not all the anti-Methodist crap. 6/10

Villette- Without a doubt a well-written book but just too depressing for me!  7/10

The Professor- Boring. Anti-Catholic sentiments irritating. 5/10

Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights

Book- Loved it as a middle-schooler but realized how twisted Heathcliff and Cathy are later on. Still find it fascinating and gripping. Surprisingly was more engaged by latter half on latest reread. 9/10

1967- Very faithful but black and white with low production values. Hareton played as a real retard. 7/10

1970- Cut out second half and focused only on supposed “love story.” Not right. Timothy Dalton was good. 6/10

1992- Setting was off. Juliette Binoche was French and in horrible blonde wig as second generation. Again, focus on “love story.” 7/10

1998- Faithful but too rushed. Both leads, and Nelly, waaaay too old. Second generation done well but old leads in first half ruined it. 6/10

2009- Wasted opportunity to use longer running time. Reset to 1820s but using fashions at least 10 years out of date. Sexed up. Second generation rushed and poorly cast. 6/10